Study: Drug Abuse Startlingly Common In Food Service, Construction

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Nearly 19 percent of food service workers either abuse or are addicted to drugs, according to a new study, but the figure is less than five percent among military personnel.

Across all occupations, 10.2 percent of U.S. workers suffer from substance abuse or dependency issues, with cocaine being the most common drug of choice within that subset, according to an analysis by Treatment4Addiction, a website that provides educational resources for addiction treatment, based on 2010-2011 national survey data. (RELATED: Addicted to Prescription Drugs? There’s a Prescription Drug for That)

Controlled substances were not the only workplace diversion, though, as 15 percent of American workers also reporting being impaired by alcohol while at work at least once during the previous year.

Drug abuse was most common in the food preparation and service industry, in which the study determined that 18.6 percent of workers abuse drugs. “Given their low wages and frequent need to take second or third jobs to make ends meet,” the authors say, “it comes as no surprise that stimulants are the drug that’s most disproportionately used.”

Yet stimulants are hardly the only substance abused in the industry, which also had the highest abuse rates of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, painkillers, and tranquilizers. On the other hand, food service failed even to crack the top 10 for heroin and sedative use. (RELATED: Doctors React to Obama Prescription Drug Initiative)

Construction workers, who took the second spot on the list with a 17.4 percent rate of substance abuse, are apparently more eclectic in their vices, ranking among the top 10 occupations for abuse of every category of substance.

They do seem to have a special proclivity for heroin, though, abusing that drug at a rate 3.25 standard deviations above the national average, almost double the rate of entertainers and athletes, who rank second.

“The impact of drug abuse on workplaces is astronomical, costing the United States $120 billion in lost productivity in 2007,” the authors assert. “The effect on safety can be potentially catastrophic: Employees involved in accidents were more than four times as likely to test positive for opiates.”

Predictably, the study also shows that drug abuse has a significant impact on absenteeism. Employees with no abuse or dependency issues missed an average of 0.86 work days per month due to illness or other reasons, while the average for substance abusers is 1.19 days.

Interestingly, though, the disparity is driven primarily by just a few substances, and users of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and alcohol only missing slightly more work than non-users—roughly between 1 and 1.5 days per month. (RELATED: Did the Government Just Admit that Marijuana Can Shrink Serious Brain Tumors?)

Employees who abused sedatives, inhalants, painkillers, tranquilizers, psychotherapeutics, and stimulants, on the other hand, missed significantly more work than did their colleagues. Within that group, stimulant users missed the fewest days—2.42 per month—while sedative users missed a whopping 9.26 days.

The authors speculate that sedative abusers are such an outlier because “sedative dependence can be a factor in accidents such as car crashes, potentially leading to missed work.”

On a more encouraging note, the study also concluded that the armed forces have the lowest rate of abuse among all occupations, with just 4.6 percent of service members abusing any drug. Their drug of choice appears to be heroin, but even in that category, the military is not among the top 10 occupations for abuse.

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Peter Fricke